When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Forno 301 Location: 301 W. Roosevelt, Phoenix Open: About three weeks Eats: Pizza Price: $15/person
In Phoenix -- particularly in Downtown and Central Phoenix -- you can have nearly any kind of pizza you want. Classic Neopolitan? Sure. Thin-crust, East Coast-style? Yup. Even build-your-own, fast-casual pizza and greasy delivery.
So what could yet another downtown Phoenix pizzeria have to offer that you won't find any of the many, many other pizza spots in the 'hood?
How about a duo of friendly Italians guys who enjoy turning up the tunes and dancing in the dining room to entertain themselves during the post-lunch lull. Yes, what unique happening is only likely to be found at Forno 301.
This new Italian spot opened on what could be considered the far west end of Roosevelt Row, in a low-lying building kitty-corner to Pita Jungle. Inside you'll find a sleek space with a long bar on one side and a wall decorated with empty wine bottles on the other. Windows along the front of the dining room flood the restaurant with natural light, adding to the room's natural charm.
You're likely to be welcomed by either Roberto or Luca, the two aforementioned Italian guys that opened the restaurant. If you ever frequented the now-defunct Tutti Santi location in Mesa, you may recognize Roberto from there.
At Forno 301 the menu is simple, mostly pizzas complemented by three types of bruschetta, three salads, and three panino. On a chalkboard by near the front of the room, there may also be a few daily specials.
On our visit those specials included a simple grapefruit salad that layered sweet wedges of fruit with mixed greens, slices of fennel, carrots, and tomatoes. The fresh flavors were familiar, but satisfying with a nice balance of sweetness and bitterness and added richness from the olive oil dressing.
By the time we'd finished with it, the pizza had arrived. At first glance, Forno's pizza may look Neopolitan style, but look a little closer and you'll notice a few important distinctions. Unlike a Neopolitan pizza the crust here isn't fluffy and full of air, in fact it barely rises up the height of the rest of the pie. And if you pick up a slice, you'll find a crispy crust covers the entire bottom of the pizza, meaning no signature Neopolitan soup-y middle.
But the flavors of Forno's namesake 301 pizza were excellent nonetheless. Tangy tomato sauce made a base for creamy mozzerella, hunks of sausage, and strings of sweet onions. Even the mushrooms, of which there weren't many, made their hearty flavor and presence known.
As we lingered over our $6 glasses of house white wine -- served unpretentiously in an Old Fashioned glass -- in the otherwise empty restaurant, Roberto emerged from the kitchen to boogey down the long dining room. Moving around and turning up the music, he explained before stepping out to speak to a passerby, helps keep the energy up during the long afternoon. After all, he'll be there until the restaurant closes at midnight.
And if you still have room by the time your pizzas gone, do yourself a favor and order dessert. Made by Forno 301's Cuban-born and Italian-trained pastry chef, the selection during our visit included a chocolate torte that was at once rich, and light as air with a perfect level of sweetness.
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So though downtown may not have needed another place for good pizza, at least Forno 301 comes with a style that's all its own. It's hard to say whether the people or the food are the bigger draw, but either way we're excited to come back for more.